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We Long for a Home

Recorded Sound | Digitized | RG Number: RG-91.0175

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    We Long for a Home


    Survivors in the displaced persons camps hungered for culture and were eager to restore a sense of normalcy to their lives. Entertainment played an increasingly important role as survivors joined together to form theatrical and musical troupes, some of which toured extensively through the occupied zones of Germany. Born in Lodz, Poland, to a family of professional musicians and trained on violin and saxophone, Henry Baigelman performed with the Lodz Ghetto Orchestra under the direction of his eldest brother Dovid, a noted composer and conductor. After the war, Baigelman, together with seven fellow surviving musicians from Lodz, formed the touring jazz band The Happy Boys. The band was renowned for its lively arrangements and agreeable mixture of prewar hits, light classics, Jewish selections, and original songs about the lives and concerns of Jewish displaced persons. Baigelman and his wife Gita immigrated to the United States in 1949.
    Alternate Title
    Es benkt zikh nokh ahaym
    Lyricist: Henry C. Baigelman
    Composer: Stranski
    Henry Chaim Baigelman was born on July 12, 1911, in Łódź, Poland, to Szyman and Rifka. He had a brother David, a composer and conductor, born in March 1887, two other brothers, a sister Rose, and three other sisters. A Polish-Jewish family, they attended synagogue, observed major holidays, and spoke Polish and Yiddish at home. Henry attended shul every Saturday, and received his secular education at a public Polish Gymnasium. They were a family of professional musicians. When Henry was 6, his brother-in-law, Samuel, taught him to play the violin. He joined a conservatory and at 15 began playing both the violin and the saxophone professionally. Szyman died in 1939, before the war started.
    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. When the bombing began, the Baigelman men fled the city and hid in a field to avoid being caught and sent to a labor camp. Henry promised his mother that he would return that same day and he did. By September 8, the German army occupied Łódź and established a sealed ghetto. Henry, Rifka, David, a younger brother, Rose, her daughter, and extended family members were forced to move into a two room apartment in the ghetto. Henry worked in a kitchen and at a factory that manufactured hats for German soldiers. The administrative head of the ghetto, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, established the House of Culture where the Łódź ghetto orchestra performed twice per week; David was the conductor and Henry played the violin.
    After Rose died of a brain tumor around 1942, Rifka and Henry cared for her daughter. On June 10, 1944, Heinrich Himmler ordered the destruction of the ghetto. David hid the family instruments, including Henry’s violin, in a factory attic. On August 4, 1944, Henry and 23 family members were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp. They took what they could carry and were forced into covered cattle cars for an overnight ride. Upon arrival, the men, women, and children were separated. Henry was stripped, shaved, disinfected, and given a prison uniform and shoes. He shared a bed with 3 others and did not work. Henry saw the crematoriums, but only heard rumors as to their purpose.
    On August 18, Henry was transported to Kaltwasser concentration camp in Germany in a closed cattle car. The prisoners could see people standing along the tracks, watching the train. He arrived on August 21 and was placed in a barracks with 500-600 prisoners. There was no sanitation or toilets, and many were ill. Henry worked building highways for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week; his rations were a small piece of bread and soup each day. In November 1944, he was transported to Flossenberg concentration camp and assigned to hard labor. In February 1945, there was a typhus outbreak in sub-camp Altenhammer and the sick were brought to the hospital at Flossenberg. Henry, his nephew, and 2 cousins were among those selected to replace them. In Atlenhammer, Henry met the camp supervisor, a German political prisoner. He had a violin and accordion and he made Henry and his cousin play daily for him. In return, Henry was well fed and had extra food to share with friends.
    On April 16, the German soldiers and guards vacated the camp. The prisoners, having nowhere to go, stayed behind. They found food and ate. After two days, the Germans returned and on April 20, decided to evacuate the camp by ordering a forced march of 12,000 prisoners. They marched at night and hid in orchards during the day. There was no food and they slept in the snow with one blanket. If a prisoner did not get up, he was shot. On April 23, Henry could not get up; his nephew and a friend carried him until he could walk on his own. They were liberated that night by the United States Army. Only 3,000 prisoners survived. The soldiers gave the liberated prisoners milk and food.
    Henry and four others found a farm and the farmer provided food and shelter. After a few weeks, they left for the American controlled city of Cham, Germany, and were provided with living accommodations. Henry and two nephews were the only survivors from his immediate family of twenty-three people. While in Cham, Henry met seven other musicians from Łódź. An American army captain and the Cham Burgermeister helped Henry organize an orchestra. Henry procured instruments from Czechoslovakia. His brother-in-law had retrieved the family instruments from the Łódź ghetto following its liberation by the Soviet Army on January 19, 1945. Henry also visited a textile factory and had suits tailor made for performances. The group named themselves the Happy Boys. They specialized in American jazz and performed for American troops. Henry contacted the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRAA), which administered displaced persons camps. UNRAA provided the group with an ambulance and driver. They converted it into a tour bus and performed at displaced persons camps and concert halls in large German cities. The Happy Boys were known for their mix of prewar hits, easy listening classics, Jewish songs, and original works about the lives and concerns of Jewish displaced persons. While touring in 1947, Henry married Gita Glazer. The couple had met in Łódź in 1939. The Happy Boys played together for four years.
    In 1949, Henry and Gita decided to leave Germany. Emigration to the United States was difficult and the couple decided to go to Israel. As they were making preparations, the quota opened for visas to the US. On August 9, they emigrated to New York from Cham on the USS General Haan. The couple had 2 children. Henry died on June 2, 2002, at the age of 90.

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    Administrative Notes

    Recorded Sound Provenance
    This song was included in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's web exhibition, "Music of the Holocaust" curated by the Museum's musicologist.
    Recorded Sound Notes
    Live recording at USHMM conference “Life Reborn: Jewish Displaced Persons 1945–1951,” Washington D.C., January 16, 2000. Performed by Adrienne Cooper with Zalmen Mlotek, piano.

    “The Happy Boys" was a troupe of musician-survivors of the Lodz ghetto who toured DP Camps throughout the American Zone of Occupation during the early postwar years. "Happy Boys" director Henry Baigelman was a friend of the USHMM, and in 2010, he donated a collection of memorabilia from his estate (
    Recorded Sound Source
    Bret Werb
    Record last modified:
    2024-02-21 07:28:59
    This page:

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